Watch out for the machine gun nest during Guard cookoff

Published 10:46 pm Saturday, November 11, 2006

Contestants normally wouldn’t take machine guns to a cooking competition, but that’s exactly what a group of Mississippi Army National Guard soldiers will do on Saturday.

Second Lt. Andy Thaggard, a food service officer for the 367th Maintenance Company out of Philadelphia, Miss., says there’s a lot more to cooking in a combat scenario than getting the recipes right.

The 367th will compete for the Philip A. Connelly Award for Excellence in Army Food Service.

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Because the competition simulates a field environment, it will be held in Northside Park in Philadelphia, where soldiers have been busy setting up all week.

“There will be 10 tents set up, fully camouflaged, along with fighting positions and even a machine gun nest,” Thaggard said.

Judges from the Department of the Army will evaluate the unit in food preparation and quality, tactical site selection and food and water safety procedures, Thaggard said.

Janice Payne, a Philadelphia alderwoman, said the combat cookoff is “awesome to see.”

“You just can’t know if you haven’t been there,” she said. “I wish everyone could see it — the hard work and professionalism of this unit. It’s truly an effort for them to prepare and serve this meal so beautifully and tastefully out there in the woods.”

The competition allows the unit to determine how it measures up to other Guard units across the country. The 367th is competing against six other regional winners and national finalists are to be named next month.

“This recognizes the best in Army food service,” Thaggard said. “An Army will grind to a halt pretty quickly when there’s no food. Cooks work very hard and this is a way to recognize them for that hard work.”

The Connelly Award program is in its 39th year and is sponsored by International Food Service Executives Association.

The nation’s top two Guard units will be honored at a national competition next year in Kansas City.

Whether the 367th claims the prize or not, Payne said the soldiers never fail to make the community proud.

“I’m so thankful that they have this honor. And they’re very deserving to be competing and representing Mississippi. We’re very proud of these men and women,” she said. “I’ll never forget the day we sent them to Desert Storm. I get emotional just thinking about it. There were tears streaming down everyone’s face. It was the same way when they went to Iraq this time.”